'America Is the Only Country I've Known': After Trump's DACA Decision, Middle School Teacher, 24, Fears Deportation
Ramon Ramirez is a history teacher who knows nothing about the history of the country he was born in — only the country that has always been his home.
As an undocumented immigrant and a “Dreamer” who came to the United States with his parents when he was 3, Ramirez fears that he will be forced to quit his job as a middle school teacher in Memphis, Tennessee, and deported to Mexico — a country he has only visited once — now that the Trump administration has decided to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in six months.
Nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants like Ramirez are at risk for deportation if Congress and the president can’t make a deal to keep the so-called Dreamers in the United States.
“It has always been my dream to be the best teacher I can to be my students and to one day actually be able to say on paper that I am an American citizen,” Ramirez, 24, tells PEOPLE during his lunch break at Kirby Middle School, where he is a soccer coach and teaches all subjects to teens with behavioral issues.
“I am very sad today and very disappointed — it’s a huge let-down,” he says. “My family and I are so assimilated into American culture that we don’t identify as anything else. We pay our bills, we pay our taxes. I went to college here. America is the only country that I have known.”
Ramirez was a toddler when his parents, Ramon, now a supervisor at a cement block company, and Oralia, a homemaker, came to the United States in 1996 with a temporary visa to give their first child a better chance at a happy life.
“The economy in Mexico was headed down and they wanted to be proactive,” says Ramirez, who is single and graduated from Christian Brothers University in Memphis with a history degree two years ago. He was hired last year to teach at Kirby Middle School.
“When their visa expired, I was 14 and happy at school, getting good grades, enjoying my friends,” he says. “Renewing the visa would have required my family to return to Mexico first, and by then, my parents had a mortgage to pay.”
They also had two other children: Amairany, 18, and Alex, 12, who were born in the United States.
“So now, this terrible decision by the president could split up my family,” Ramirez tells PEOPLE. “I have a question for Donald Trump: ‘What would make you change your mind? What has changed between the time you agreed that the Dreamers need to be kept here, until now, when you are ending the program?’ I would like an answer.”
As a child, Ramirez says he was taught by his parents to work hard and never accept a handout, only a “hand up.”
“I studied and got good grades with a dream of winning a scholarship, and that’s exactly what happened,” he says. “I received a scholarship to a private university and never took public funds from anyone. All I have worked for in my life, I have earned by myself. And it’s all at risk now.”
His history degree, he says, would be useless in Mexico. “I can’t teach Mexican history — I know nothing about it,” says Ramirez. “To be honest, I feel as though I am being held hostage by the government here, along with all of the other Dreamers.”
Aside from having to move to a country he doesn’t know, his biggest fear is having to leave the job he loves, and his students.
“Good teachers are hard to come by — they’re still trying to hire more of them in my district,” Ramirez tells PEOPLE. “All I’ve ever wanted was to make a difference in somebody’s life. Can’t we use more people like that? It’s a shame, that’s what this is. It’s a national shame.”